In my Year of Living Curiously experiment, a recent event provided the biggest challenge to my ongoing goal of elevating curiosity ahead of criticism.
My calendar was blocked out for the Degenerate Flame-Off weekend. It’s the coolest annual event for the glass pipe industry where all the great glass artists from around the country come to compete. With my crazy marijuana-related projects chugging along, I had to be there. Plus, it was guaranteed to be hot, sexy and sharp.
That same weekend I was asked to attend a protest for the national conference of Restored Hope Network, a reparative/gay-conversion/deal with homosexuality/pray the gay away event. I was torn, but then I thought,
“What do I know about this event that doesn’t come from assumption?”
Whereas I have studied a bit about the controversial topic of reparative/conversion therapy for homosexuality, my book knowledge was no substitute for experiencing the event first hand.
Plus, it was at a church and with the exception of weddings and funerals, I have never been to church. I am not a Christian. I was curious.
So I skipped the protest, split the weekend, and attended the Restored Hope Network conference and the Degenerate Flame-Off. The irony was not lost on me.
As I sat outside the church, it took much longer than usual to ready myself into my curious-before-critical state. Once inside, here’s what I learned.
Affliction or Confliction?
The gospel music filled the sanctuary and I looked for elation in the faces of the men and women with their arms lifted toward the ceiling, fingers splayed and shaking, and tears streaming down their cheeks, but all I saw was desperation.
With all the talk about the affliction of same-sex attraction, it was hard to shake my irritation. I don’t perceive same-sex attraction to be an affliction. But then I thought about it from the perspective of men and women who do not want to be attracted to the same sex, but are. To them, perhaps it is an affliction in a similar way that being born with female chromosomes makes being born female an affliction to those that know that they are, in more ways than not, male.
I wanted to understand why these afflicted folks chose this particular type of Christianity when there are many varieties that do not consider homosexuality an affliction, but I couldn’t sneak an opportunity to poll the pews. Perhaps their true affliction was a choice…a conflicting choice of an incompatible religion with an undeniable orientation.
What Went Down?
Listening to the testimonials made it apparent that this conversion therapy was not only being sold as a cure for homosexuality, but also as a way to live around it. I wondered why it seemed like the women leaders were more convinced that the gay could be prayed away than the men. Many of the men seemed publicly desperate to eradicate unwanted attractions but privately resigned to live with them.
Most of the speakers I heard did not experience a change in sexual orientation, but found hope for help about what to do about it. They talked about their accountability partners who they go to when their same-sex urges flare up. Many have agreements about what to share and what not to share about their same-sex desires with their different-sex partners.
Tables of books and DVDs made it clear that this is an industry, a potentially big one. Each speaker I heard had created their own ministry or counseling business out of their previous role as a sinner. Some sounded smart and were excellent speakers. I got the impression that the anti-transgender business might be their next gold-rush, but I had to walk out of the transgender breakout because the “authority” was a dolt, and I didn’t know how much longer I could resist the urge to pinch her hard.
Much of the talk about what to change to be accepted in the eye of God and about what Jesus loves and does not love, got a bit confusing. For all of the success stories shared, I know that conversion therapy often fails. I couldn’t help but wonder what convinces some to change their belief from the need to change to be accepted in the eye of God, to a belief that God loves them the way they are. I also wondered if that eye of God is a literal eyeball as in “eye for an eye” or if it’s more of a metaphorical eye in the sky?
Which leads to the whole literal question…
Literally the Word of God. Really?
This particular program follows the literal word of God. I was curious how people know their bible is the literal word of God, and yet they can neither read nor understand a lick of the language in which the original word was supposedly written. My curiosity grew into skepticism when I saw followers look for answers from ex-sinner preachers who I suspiciously doubt had successfully finished any of the Rosetta Stone DVDs in Aramaic, Hebrew and Koine Greek.